Update (14 March 2012): From what I hear through the grapevine, these outlandish plans for Penang Hill have been scrapped and a low-key design will probably be adopted. Hopefully, good sense has prevailed.
12 September 2011: Why can’t they leave Penang Hill alone? Obviously, some people have not learned any lessons from the fiasco over the “upgrading” of the Penang Botanic Garden.
This is what some people are dreaming up for Penang Hill. Looks almost like an airport terminal. Goodness gracious me!
This is what one environmentalist has to say:
The write up for the proposed development at the lower station, car park and upper station has a certain logic. However, the proposed structures that will be built seems way too excessive. All the concrete, steel and glass seems to me to be unnecessary and no way blend with the natural environment and attractions of Penang Hill.
It is premature to propose these structures when a special area plan (SAP) is being developed by the consultant group from KL at the present moment. Presumably, the SAP would be a master plan that would be based on the gazetted Local Plan of Penang Hill.
The Local Plan, which was the effort of policy makers, planners, and environmental scientists was guided and based on the earlier Structure Plan, which recognises the special character of Penang Hill- its historical character, its ecological importance as water catchment area, its biological role as the last refuge of the remaining biological diversity of Penang and is one of the few natural landscapes and outdoor recreational areas left in Penang. As such, the natural heritage should be preserved and development be undertaken sensitively.
The tourism approach for Penang should be nature tourism, or eco-tourism and not mass tourism as (what appears to be) advocated (here). (The) objective (seems to be) getting developers and investors to operate all the facilities at the upper, lower and middle station. Investors will naturally want to make money and attract as large a crowd as possible. This may not be the best for Penang Hill.
In the master plan of the SAP which is due for completion this year, there should be a serious assessment of the environmental carrying capacity of the hill in their development proposal. How many people can Penang Hill take without a deterioration of the environment? What are adverse ecological impacts on the biodiversity, which is a major attraction of the hill complex? Phrases like Penang Hill should be “developed as a must-see destination for visitors” seems like repeating the mantra of mass tourism, which if carried out would destroy the peace and tranquility of the hill, where visitors can appreciate the unique characteristics of Penang Hill.
How many people should Penang Hill have? How is the total carrying capacity determined? What kind of infrastructure should be there and not spoil the ambience of the place? In many tourism destinations around the world, there is now limits to the numbers of visitors that can be there at any one time.
These questions should be answered before approval be given to building massive infrastructures. What are the numbers that the proposed infrastructure is meant to serve? None of these questions have been asked or answered.
Another reaction from a concerned Penangite:
Despite the new funicular, it should not be forgotten that the stations themselves are heritage structures dating back to the 1920s. They are fully intact in both form and materials and any development around them, if deemed necessary, should enhance rather than dominate and overshadow the historical buildings. For too long, we have been subject to the mistaken belief that if the historical structure is retained, the surroundings may be sacrificed to any kind of development. We have seen resulting configurations on Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah and Kelawei Road, where the original buildings have become totally lost, enclosed, obscured and rendered meaningless without their curtilage.
The same is being proposed at the Bottom Station. The structure is over-the-top, heavy, dominating and non-sympathetic. It renders the original station completely meaningless in the overall presentation. The brief requires a covered waiting area, it could be answered in so many ways rather than in this over-designed fashion – it could be light-weight, soft, it could be partially underground as the site slopes upwards, it could be elongated along the sides with the centre space planted and green. It could be inviting and friendly instead of monolithic and heavy.
The Top Station should be left alone. The ‘Walkway’ is totally uncalled for. If people come up the hills they do not expect to be protected from the elements. The way the walkway has been designed with its inverted roof ridges, it is very minimal in its protection anyway, the slightest wind-driven rain will wet anyone sheltering. By all means, enlarge the waiting area around the station slightly, in a low key fashion, but please leave the rest alone. People bring umbrellas and sun hats; they are going up the hills; they are not asking to be protected from the winds and rain and sun and mist.
People visit Penang Hill because they want to experience Nature and see the open skies and green hills and be exposed to the elements.
As someone noted, if they want to be sheltered and in comfort, they would be better off lepaking at one of Penang’s many (under-frequented) air-conditioned shopping malls where they can wallow in the consumerist culture.
Look, almost the whole of Penang Island is now getting congested. They messed up the Penang Botanic Garden. Then the Penang Turf Club land has been carved up and sold.
Now others are setting their sights on Penang Hill. They have removed the heritage trains and put out of operations the solid antique machinery. Not contented with that, they now want to mess with the heritage railway stations.
Please stick to the Penang Hill Local Plan and leave Penang Hill alone. (Why do we even need a ‘special area plan’ for the Hill? Why not make public and enforce both the Penang Hill Local Plan, formulated in the late 1990s, and the Penang Island Local Plan, which was approved in 2008 but has not yet seen the light of day?)
I think my theory still holds: some people can’t bear to see any untouched green lungs, public spaces or heritage icons. They have this itch to “upgrade” or “develop”, which usually means installing tawdry (and mostly useless) concrete and steel structures or pouring concrete and tarmac all over the place. (Think of the now demolished Leaning Arches of Botanic Garden.)
Be contented with the RM5m ‘Kancil car park’ legacy to Penang – another monument to misguided notions of “development”.
Now give us a break and save Penang Hill.